The Sexting Persecution Of Cormega Copening


Charging kids with crimes for sexting themselves to a fully consenting fellow kid always seemed excessive and cruel to me. This story is the reductio ad absurdum that settles the matter.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, 17-year-old Cormega Copening and his girlfriend Brianna Denson, also 17, began exchanging naked photos of themselves in text messages when they were 16. They were the only ones who saw the pictures, but someone somehow tipped off local authorities, who searched Copening’s phone and discovered them.

Copeling and Denson were charged with sexual exploitation. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Denson had committed two felony sex crimes...against herself. A warrant cited her as both the adult perpetrator and the minor victim of two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree exploitation for making her photo and third-degree exploitation for having her own nude photo in her possession. A conviction could have put Denson in prison and would have required her to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. Denson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was given 12 months of probation.

Her sexting partner Copening, however, is still facing as much as ten years prison time for two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation and three counts of third-degree exploitation. As with Denson, the third-degree charges arise out of the pictures Copening had of himself.  That’s not the worst of the mind-twisting logic of this prosecution, however. North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other: New York) that makes 16  the age of adulthood in the criminal system. The state’s consent laws consider anyone 16 and under a minor, but allows minors 16 or over to be charged as adults.

Gilbertian result: Copening is facing conviction, as an adult, for exploiting a minor—himself.

Getting into the spirit of the madness, the Fayetteville Observer  published the names of the teens because it’s the paper’s policy to publish the names of “adults” such as Copening and Denson, charged with felony crimes. But the paper violated its policy by publishing the names of the minor victims—Copening and Denson.

It is obvious—isn’t it obvious?—that the child pornography laws that cause this kind of persecution were not intended for, designed for, or rationally applicable to sexting, which when it is consensual as in this case may be stupid, and may be a reckless, and may be something society should teach teens not to do, but should not involve life-destroyingl criminal charges and punishment. ( The charges against Copening already got him kicked off the football team at Jack Britt High School, where he had been the quarterback.) Imprisoning a teen for consensual sexting does more harm, by far, than the “crime” itself. Psychologist Jeff Temple of the University of Texas Medical Branch says that law enforcement applying such laws nationwide would result in “millions of kids being charged with child pornography.” His research and a 2014 study published by researchers at Drexel University in Pennsylvania found that 28% of teens have used their cell phones to send nude photos of themselves to other teens.

Interestingly, Copening and Denson could have happily screwed the night away together, and the day too, without getting so much as a fine.  The age of consent for sexual activity in North Carolina is 16, and it is even less than that for teens who are less than four years apart in age. Sending and keeping photos of the same bodies involved (but looking flatter and smaller), however, makes them heinous, perverted criminals who will never be permitted in schools or near Boy Scout troops for the rest of their days.

The Sheriff’s Office lawyers and the Cumberland County District Attorney don’t care to debate the absurdity of this, and say their  job is to enforce the law as written. No, their job is to enforce the law as written using their brains and sense of right and wrong to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice that will accomplish only harm and no good. Writes Above the Law’s “Techdirt”:

“At worst, the officers should have considered the context, the consensual nature and the lack of age discrepancy and did what the charging detective recommended — sending the teens home to their parents. If any discipline was needed for these actions, it’s well within the remand of their respective legal guardians, not the state that has decided people of a certain age aren’t allowed to own any part of themselves until the government says its OK.”



Pointer and Facts: Above the Law

Facts: Reason 1, 2

Source: Fayetteville Observor

Graphic: Cosmo

27 thoughts on “The Sexting Persecution Of Cormega Copening

  1. If the authorities are going to treat these victims of the system as adults, won’t the authorities have to prove that the photos are pornographic? Mere nudity is NOT pornography, as proven by the numerous works of art in public fora, as well as the plethora of magazines showing nudity, such as Playboy and Playgirl. I have often been of the mind that the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it to the extreme (which is how we got rid of the blue laws in Virginia), but this is ridiculous.

  2. I believe technically the crime that they both committed was not only sending sexually explicit images — but also receiving them. So, the boy can be charged with having pictures on his phone of his girlfriend and vice-versa. For e.g., most child pornographers are charged merely by possessing pictures, even if they have never abused a child ever. The theory behind these laws is that children are still being abused because of the initial photo, and a subsequent violation has occurred each time that picture has been downloaded by a new person.

    All that being said, no one should be charged with this crime under the age of consent — and there needs to be a Romeo/Juliet exception for the case where one child turns 18 (or whatever) and the other child is 6 months younger or some similar nonsense.

    • In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need such an exemption for sex crime laws, because police and prosecutors would use ethical values such as fairness, discretion, constraint, and reciprocity. I remember the torrid nature of my first love (and the resulting heartbreak, which is important in building healthy character), and I can’t imagine the warped mind it takes to criminalize such an experience on technicalities.

  3. Why are North Carolina judges even hearing these cases? The judge, since the sheriff and the prosecutor are too dumb to, should be dropping the charges and sending both of these kids home to their parents…unless, NO! The judges are that stupid, too?

  4. I wrote a long anguished howl at the moon response, but I’m too discouraged to even post it.

    The end is near. We can only hope some minor infraction on our part won’t end up being an internet scandal of the day.

    The term sexual offender has lost all meaning.

    • Lisa, a sizable chunk of the adult population of today would have been in the cells next to yours. Nothing weird or problematic about your youth, I am sure. The problem is that the sheriffs, prosecutors, and judge in this case (and others like it) seem to be voyeuristic sadists hell-bent on torturing completely unremarkable teenagers and their families.

  5. “ ‘At worst, the officers should have considered the context, the consensual nature and the lack of age discrepancy and did what the charging detective recommended — sending the teens home to their parents.’ ”
    It sounds as though the investigating officer tried to do the right thing, but got overruled at some point. The reasoning behind that decision would be interesting to hear. Sounds like someone’s political ambitions overrode their capacity for abstract thought and common sense. In my county in Tennessee, this pair would have likely received no more than a referral to Juvenile Court for counseling and been released to their parents. Even the 12 months probation in the girl’s plea deal is ridiculous. There are plenty of “real criminals” who get off with less.

  6. The problem is more general than that. The general problem is we keep insisting on applying adult standards of behavior to children. We have schools with police in the building full-time writing tickets and arresting kids for behaving like children.

    In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled in New Jersey v. T.L.O. that a school official can search a student or their property without a warrant or consent and that evidence could then be used against the student in a court of law. This turned school officials into ‘super cops’ outside the Fourth Amendment restrictions. The police started letting the school officials search kid’s cars if they suspected them of drug offenses (no warrant needed!). This led to schools sending more and more school discipline issues to the courts. Kids get into a fight, well, that’s assault. Kids talking in class instead of doing their work…disorderly conduct. We run them through metal detectors every day and then drug test them. We require their parents to sign away all forth amendment rights as a condition of going to the school they are required to go to by law. Why wouldn’t we charge them with child porn charges when they have child pornography on their phones?

    If the Supreme Court had taken a common sense approach to the matter and ruled that the principal could search the student’s purse, but any evidence could be used only in a school disciplinary action, not a court of law, I think much of this could be avoided. I don’t know if the court just hates the Constitution that much, hates kids, or is just too foolish to think of such things. Supreme Court rulings seem so illogical, I just can’t tell.

    • Scary, scary stuff. Of course, complicating matters is the fact that, in any given school district with a high mean average population, you have very young kids committing very adult crimes in some of the schools.

      • Possibly, but the rate of serious crime in schools has actually been going down since the 1950’s. It is just the media perception that has changed. Of course, the school officials were probably better able to deal with it then. Our current left-wing teaching dogma is pretty detached from reality. That is probably another reason they turn to the police and the courts.

        • I don’t doubt the stats. The media is so manipulative with how they depict things. Then again, reporting and triggering threshholds vary. I’m thinking more of simple assault, something even teachers have to be afraid of these days. I’ve read stories written by brave teachers, describing behavior that would be impossible for any but the most dedicated, and maybe most patient (or passive, depending on how you look at it), to endure. I couldn’t do it, and I couldn’t send my kids to one of these schools.

  7. Jack, how does a prosecution like this make it past a grand jury? Cannot sensible people stop it there?

    Either way, there should be a vocal, media-centric recall initiative against the DA involved, immediately. Publically identify the prosecutors as predators preying on the youth– which in this case they most certainly are. Deprive these prosecutors of their hypocritical stance that they are defending children with their malfeasant charges.

    The statutes here are unreflective of the authentic social world of today, and as applied, do not protect anyone from predation. In fact, they distort the social world by making normative behaviors (i.e.: hormonally charged teenagers playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”) into crimes. This is very rightly an issue for the teenagers’ parents, and an opportunity to teach their young people about propriety and dignity. In the absence of harm, there is no justifiable, reasonable, or wholesome place for the intervention of the state.

    It seems to me that every single 21st Century teenage American who dates is potentially at risk for a prison term or probation while this anti-social application of the law is permitted to stand. The public is responsible for initiating change, as these legal functionaries clearly will not. If any of you have kids younger than adolescence, the time to act on their behalf is now.

    • I don’t know, off hand, if this prosecution required a grand jury: a prosecutor doesn’t have to use one, and if the belief is that the evidence is unequivocal, the prosecutor can charge if he wants to. And the old “ham sandwich” rule would be applicable anyway.

    • We’re in the process of shifting parental rights and responsibilities over to the state. That this is occurring, and that these parents aren’t going ballistic, is evidence of that.

  8. But, we’ve been begging for this very thing for some time now. We want government making us safe, righting every wrong, meeting every need, scratching every itch, and punishing every slight. We’re getting what we’ve wished for. What’s the problem?

  9. “At worst, the officers should have considered the context, the consensual nature and the lack of age discrepancy and did what the charging detective recommended — sending the teens home to their parents. If any discipline was needed for these actions, it’s well within the remand of their respective legal guardians, not the state that has decided people of a certain age aren’t allowed to own any part of themselves until the government says its OK.”
    This does beg the question.

    Could adults consent to the publication of pornographic pictures of themselves taken while they were underage?

  10. They were charged because they are black. the sheriff and prosecutors in this case were white and I guarantee had it been a white boy and girl there would have been no charges. to charge these kids as adults and seek felony charges is malicious.

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